The boy at the centre of Mongrels must decide if he belongs on the road with his aunt and uncle or if he fits with the people on the other side of the tracks. For 10 years he and his family have lived a life of late-night exits and narrow escapes - always on the move across the South to stay one step ahead of the law. But the time is drawing near when Darren and Libby will finally know if their nephew is like them or not. And the close calls they've been running from for so long are catching up fast now. Everything is about to change.
A compelling and fascinating journey, Mongrels alternates between past and present to create an unforgettable portrait of a boy trying to understand his family and his place in a complex and unforgiving world.
"Mongrels exists somewhere in the borderlands of literary and genre fiction, full of horror and humor and heart, at once a nightmarish road trip and a moving story about a broken family leashed together by their fierce love and loyalty. (Benjamin Percy, author of The Dead Lands, Red Moon, and The Wilding)
"Stephen Graham Jones is as powerful as the monsters herein." (Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box)
"With lupine tongue tucked well into cheek, Mongrels is at once an adolescent romp through the tangled woods of family history and a rich compendium of werewolf lore old and new." (Christopher Buehlman, author of Those Across the River and The Lesser Dead)
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By Moteridgerider on 13-08-18
A ‘different’ werewolf tale to get your teeth into
I’d wanted to read a book by Stephen Graham-Jones for a long time. Firstly, he was making waves with other horror writers and reviewers who I respect. Secondly, I’d listened to some of his videoblogs and become almost entranced by his mode of speaking, almost surreal and shamanic. Thirdly, I’d heard him read some of his stuff and the prose, together with that sense of strangeness had an immediate impact.
My gut feeling was that I wanted to read a paperback of his, but when I saw the audio version of ‘Mongrels’, the one that everyone was talking about, I opted for it.
The narration duties are shared between Chris Patton and Jonathan Yen, an unusual arrangement but one which the listener gets to understand when the structure of the book becomes clear. You see, Mongrels is about werewolves. For such a trope to remotely attract me it would have to possess a unique angle and fiercely engaging prose. Mr Jones doesn’t disappoint in this respect. The ‘take’ is that of a first person narrative for the longer chapters, almost diary-like, from the pov of a teenager being brought up by his uncle and aunt. These chapters are read by Chris Patton, who adopts an engaging but intense drawl to deliver the tale of a teenager coming to terms with his life-companions’ and relations’ nature. We understand from the get-go that his uncle and aunt are werewolves, forced into a vagrant lifestyle because ... well ... once you’ve hunted down and eaten a few prey then it tends to attract the attention of the law. We also learn that it attracts werewolf enthusiasts, other werewolves and ‘sheep.’ Sheep are an example of Mr Jones’ particular werewolf lore - werewolves who have forgotten or given good reason to leave behind their werewolf transition. These ‘types’ seem to be despised by our teenage werewolf’s uncle and aunt - for a reason that is only truly revealed at the end of the novel.
The shorter, interspersing chapters are read by Jonathan Yen. The timbre of his voice evokes that of an uncle telling folk tales as a bedtime story. The pov is that of third person and, at first, it seems that Jones is telling a different story until we realise that his mc is nothing but the teenage werewolf again, but portrayed as a character that a younger version of the teenage werewolf has adopted. So in one chapter we have the ‘vampire’, in another he’s a reporter. Yet another sees him taking on the role of a ‘criminal.’
In both these chapter-styles, the nature of werewolves is revealed, together with the conflicts encountered by the teenage werewolf as he tries to understand where he has come from and what he is to become. Part of him yearns to experience his first transition, while another part is fearful of what that will entail after being put through the trauma of witnessing acts carried out by his guardians. These are bizarre, visceral and awfully described by Jones. From the desecration of graves and consumption of corpses, to a mob-arranged fight between his aunt and another combatant, to a penultimate scene that sees the protagonist’s uncle captured and maltreated.
Mongrels is different to other werewolf stories because it is a coming of age tale, and sees werewolves in a less ‘gothic’ sense, more as entities proud of their heritage but trying to survive in a world where they are shunned by all.
Jones’ dispenses with some apparent ‘givens’. For example, werewolves are not affected by the moon at all; silver has more complex effects than simply killing a lycan in the form of a bullet. There are also some almost comical segments where our teenager is warned not to curl his fists during a change for fear his claws will pierce the hands. Or the ‘never wear lycra’ rule when the change is upon you - I’ll leave you to discover why this can be fatal to a werewolf. I must admit that, at times, it was hard for me to remember what these trope twists were and things got a bit complicated trying to understand the ‘rules’ behind werewolf physiology and behaviour. Maybe Jones tried too hard in this respect. The book is not linear but hops about in terms of timescale. This creates a ‘pastiche’ type of effect where mini-stories exist within the larger narrative. This works well and I didn’t lose track of which events happened in which order as we move toward the later stages of the teenager’s life and that burning question: will he go through the change or not? This is contingent on the relationship with his dead mother (killed at childbirth) and the nature of his unknown father. What adds to this mystery is that (as far as I can remember) we are never told the name of the mc.
From the narration perspective, I liked the voices of both storytellers as they provided an interesting and effective contrast to each other. Patton’s delivery, being intense, doesn’t lend itself to a bedtime story - believe me, this book will keep you awake for all sorts of reasons! So choose the time when you listen to it.
I shall certainly be reading and listening to more from Stephen Graham Jones. He has Native American roots and this sense of having an ostracised and misunderstood culture, yet one you are fiercely proud of, comes through in the story. I sense that his themes will have broader contexts, but suffice it to say, his tales (at least this one) are much deeper than the shock-gory-slasher expectations of your standard horror novel. They provide more satisfying meat.